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Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published February 22 2013

Whistle-blower criticizes feds, own superiors for not protecting children

GRAND FORKS – A federal whistle-blower alleges that most cases involving at-risk Spirit Lake Nation children cited in earlier reports have not been investigated or dealt with by responsible federal, state or tribal authorities.

In his undated 12th “mandated report,” a copy of which was obtained Friday by Forum Communications, Thomas Sullivan alleges that “most of those children remain in the full time care and custody of known sex offenders, addicts and abusive families.”

Sullivan, regional administrator in Denver of the federal Administration for Children and Families, began filing his “mandated reports” more than eight months ago.

The eight-page 12th report, apparently filed this week with ACF supervisors in Washington, D.C., and others, again details specific cases of sexual and other physical abuse and what Sullivan said was the unwillingness of local authorities to respond appropriately to them.

Like Penn State?

He also noted that supervisors in his own agency have been critical of his reports, which he believes are mandated under federal law concerning suspected child abuse, and they have distanced themselves from his allegations.

“I have been instructed by the leadership of my agency that my beliefs do not reflect the policy position of either my agency or my department,” he writes in the 12th report.

“From what my sources and I have been able to observe, the highest priority of the state, the FBI as well as other federal agencies has been to silence us, to label us as liars, as incompetents not qualified to identify the abuse of a child, to minimize the seriousness of this situation with their fabricated, self-serving claims,” he said.

He charged that officials tasked with reforming and strengthening the child protection system at Spirit Lake claim they are “making good progress” and “everything is fine” while their actions “track the same path followed by the leadership of both Penn State and the Catholic Church when these organizations sought to protect their institutions’ reputation by covering up the rape of children.”

Officials at Penn State University have been faulted for not doing more to stop the sexual abuse of young boys by former football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty in June 2012 on 45 charges. The Catholic Church has faced severe criticism and lawsuits over its handling of pedophile priests over a long period.

Citing cases where he said children “were removed from physically and sexually abusive homes based on confirmed reports of abuse,” Sullivan alleges that “neither the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) nor the FBI have taken any action to investigate or charge the adults in these homes for their criminally abusive acts.”

Many of the adults in those homes “are related to or are close associates of” Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton or other Tribal Council members, he wrote.

Yankton did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.

U.S. attorney’s response

Tim Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said on Friday that he hopes to attend the Wednesday meeting at Spirit Lake, and he disputed Sullivan’s characterizations of his and the FBI’s response to allegations of criminal activity on the reservation.

“As I’ve said before, we take very, very seriously any and all allegations of crimes against children at Spirit Lake or anywhere else,” he said.

“We have looked at all the allegations that have been made in the past, and I remain fully confident that those allegations have been investigated by the FBI and BIA, and where evidence has been gathered that supports those allegations, we’ll charge those out.”

Purdon said his office has forwarded all of Sullivan’s reports to the BIA and FBI and has opened some cases based on the allegations.

“We may or may not have evidence to charge,” he said. “Many of these allegations, the FBI simply has been unable to locate evidence sufficient to substantiate a prosecution.”

He urged people at Spirit Lake, “If you have evidence, if you are a witness, call the FBI or law enforcement” rather than pushing allegations through a third party.

Convictions record

In response to a question, Purdon provided Forum Communications with records of more than two dozen convictions obtained by his office in the past two years on felony cases originating at Spirit Lake.

Those cases included convictions for domestic assault by a habitual offender, child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse and failing to register as a sex offender. A Fort Totten, N.D., man was sentenced in U.S. District Court in December 2011 for striking two of his children with a closed fist.

Purdon also cited the July 2012 arrest of Valentino James Bagola, 19, of St. Michael, N.D., on charges of first-degree murder in the May 2011 deaths of Spirit Lake siblings Destiny Jane Shaw, 9, and Travis Lee DuBois Jr., 6. The children also had been sexually abused, and outrage over the crime fueled a growing chorus of concern about child safety generally on the reservation. Bagola remains in custody awaiting a hearing this spring in federal court.

Purdon also cited numerous drug, vehicular homicide, firearm and burglary cases his office and the FBI have handled at Spirit Lake, where all felonies are investigated and prosecuted federally.

He also pointed to “the 11 convictions (including two Tribal Council members) for public corruption arising out of embezzlement” from the tribe’s heating assistance and vocational rehabilitation programs over the past two years.

Call Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1102; or send email to chaga@gfherald.com.

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